Developing Presque Isle Downs

Presque Isle Downs is a brand new horse race track and clubhouse/slot casino sitting on approximately 300 acres off Interstate 90 in Erie, Pennsylvania. To make this new gaming center a reality, owner MTR Gaming Group needed partners and contractors able to navigate Gaming Commission compliance, waterway and wetlands preservation, and an aggressive schedule—all while performing in a prime lake effect area in winter. Few construction companies were willing to take on the risks associated with the project, especially because of the winter weather. Where others saw challenges, Independence Excavating saw an opportunity. Independence Excavating was able to address all these issues and collaborate with a large number of partners and subcontractors to lead the development of the new facility.

Rules of the Game

Before starting work, Independence Excavating and all subcontractors would need to go through a compliance check with the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission. No work could begin until the client obtained a gaming license for the state of Pennsylvania. This would delay the start of an already tight timeframe for the project as a whole.

Massive Earthwork

Independence Excavating moved a total of 1.6 million cubic yards of earth to develop Presque Isle Downs

Independence Excavating moved a total of 1.6 million cubic yards of earth to develop Presque Isle Downs

Independence Excavating had the challenge of moving over 600,000 cubic yards of structural fill for building foundations through the winter season. There were also artesian springs throughout the site, complicating the construction sequence during the earthwork phase. After crews added the parking and embankment, and racetrack sub-grade earth, they had moved a total of 1.6 million cubic yards of earth.

Walnut Creek Preservation

Walnut Creek is a well-known habitat for fish in Northwest Pennsylvania, so protection of the creek was a high priority. A good portion of the cut material lay on the west side of Walnut Creek and was destined for the main embankment on the east bank. The solution for crossing the creek was a structure that would span and protect the creek waters in light of the recognized sensitivity and importance of the creek as a natural resource. The resulting temporary span was installed above the 100-year floodway for 110 linear feet between the banks with 8-foot tall steel beams. This bridge was meticulously placed for trucks to safely traverse over the floodway, and at the same time, safely travel beneath high voltage supply lines. Additional permanent bridges were also installed to assist in moving materials and earth over the creek.

Building on Floodway Soils

The underlying site presented specific challenges. Subsurface soils located in floodways had to bear the earth embankment. Arch culvert foundations beneath the future racetrack also required close supervision. With the assistance of design and construction management consultants, Independence Excavating addressed these conditions so they could have the building pad ready for the deadline.

Soil Stabilization

Independence Excavating employed the use of several specialized pieces of equipment which were designed and built in-house, specifically for this soil conditioning process.

Independence Excavating employed the use of several specialized pieces of equipment which were designed and built in-house, specifically for this soil conditioning process.

The team at Independence Excavating introduced the MTR ownership to the concept of chemically drying the soils as the scope was reviewed during the bidding process. Once the project was awarded, Independence Excavating used its knowledge and experience in handling wet soils to maintain and deliver an early finish for the important milestone dates critical to the project schedule. The notorious Erie winters and the existing wet soil conditions provided the platform for one of the largest and most intense soil conditioning projects in the history of the company. The company also relied on the experience and commitment of its dedicated employees as well as the assistance of key material suppliers Carmeuse Lime, Mintek Resources and its specialty subs Fairport Trucking and Cutting Edge Reclamation.

Teamwork is the Dream Work – the Final Laps

With the earthwork and embankments in place, Independence Excavating shifted their efforts to utilities and putting the final touches on the site. Independence Excavating crews installed storm sewers, water supplies and sanitary sewers across the site.

Great collaboration drove the project to completion. Pre-cast culvert and temporary and permanent bridge installations came about with the help of Jeff Zell Consultants, RL Johnson and Howard Concrete. Century Steel and Cuyahoga Road and Bridge also made integral contributions to the bridgework. Utility and paving facilities were installed with the help of Richmond Valve and Pipe, Baughman Tile, Mack Industries, Fisher Trucking, Erie Sand and Gravel and Showman Quarries. Electrical installation moved forward with the support of Keystone-Doan-Pyramid, while Turner Construction assisted with both gas and electrical tasks. Joseph McCormick, an Erie contractor, added 50 acres of asphalt over the site. And landscaping was managed along with Ballast Fence, Penn Line and Richfield Landscaping.

Managing all of these contractors was no small task. Thanks to GPS and construction management software such as HCSS HeavyJob, Independence Excavating could effortlessly coordinate efforts to get the job done right.

The Results

With portions of the facility still under construction, Independence Excavating will still be on site coordinating efforts until mid-2007. Under extreme conditions, all partners and contractors have done an exceptional job in the collaboration and execution of this major undertaking.


Erie, Pennsylvania


A 300-acre gaming and entertainment complex for the MTR Gaming Group. Millions of cubic yards of earthwork and natural resource preservation managed across multiple subcontractors and partners on a tight schedule.

Services Performed


“I needed a contractor who could deliver a 200 acre site package with a tough schedule. The problem was we had wet soils, high groundwater, and were starting in a nasty Erie winter. Independence brought the resources and expertise to get the job done and done right.”

-Patrick J. Arneault
Vice President, Presque Isle Downs


Large-scale jobs require a financially stable partner.